By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
With the resignation of now former Gov. Robert Bentley, it’s best to start at the end.
Because the end explains so much about how the beginning of that end ever came to be.
That end came Monday afternoon, with all of the state’s media tucked into the old House chambers in the State Capitol building, Bentley standing before the cameras, reading a prepared statement, announcing to the people that he’s stepping down as Governor.
“I have decided that it is time for me to step down,” Bentley said. “I’m leaving this office … to focus on other, and possibly more effective areas, of service.”
To which, everyone in the room looked around uneasily and thought, “say what?”
Because let’s be clear: Robert Bentley did not decide to step down to pursue other opportunities, as if he was a city’s parks and rec director tired of gym upkeep.
Not a half-hour before this clueless statement, Bentley was slumped over in a chair in Courtroom 3C at the Montgomery County Courthouse, listening to District Court Judge Troy Massey read off a pair of charges to which Bentley was pleading guilty. As part of that plea deal, which happened to magically turn four felonies into two misdemeanors, the Governor was agreeing to resign, never seek public office again and repay more than $50,000 to the State in various fines.
That scene came after more than 24 hours of negotiations between Bentley, his attorneys and various Law Enforcement officials and attorneys. And of course, all of that came after the release of the House Judiciary Committee’s investigative report, which laid bare the Governor’s various misdeeds and coverups.
But to hear Bentley tell it on Monday, while there had been a few mistakes, ultimately, it was his decision to pack it up and roll out, head high, on to the next area of public service.
And that separation from reality for the former Governor is how we ended up here at all.
Because while this sad chapter in Alabama history will inevitably be summed up by calling this whole, sordid mess “an affair,” it is not really about an affair. Truthfully, no one cares much about an affair – at least, the majority of lawmakers and Law Enforcement don’t care about the physical affair itself, the one between Bentley and former aide Rebekah Mason.
Humans make mistakes all the time. Great men and women have been undone by all sorts of vices – gambling, drinking, drugs and sex. And all people, great or not, have made mistakes or have just done dumb things.
What matters, though, is a person’s ability to extricate themselves from those mistakes – to own up to responsibility, to take the blame, to right the wrong.
Robert Bentley lacks that gene.
Instead of righting the wrong, he continued to pile more wrongs on top, trying to stay just one step in front of the really bad consequences. He sent law enforcement to intimidate staffers and others. He tried to intimidate a former staffer. He tried to cover things up and withhold documents. He lied to people over and over and over.
Honestly, that Bentley never, in more than two years, took a step back and realized how far off the rails it had all traveled is fairly staggering. This is a man who practiced medicine for 35 years, who served in the Legislature and as Governor. Self-discipline has to be in him somewhere.
Yet somehow, six months after he had a starring role in the world’s most embarrassing sex tape, Bentley was using the State airplane to take Mason, his co-star in that recording, to Donald Trump’s inauguration.
When most of the transgressions were laid bare last Friday in the committee’s report, there was nowhere left to turn for Bentley. There were no law enforcement officers willing to do his bidding, no staffers willing to look the other way
There was only one person left to blame. And even then, standing alone, Bentley couldn’t completely own up to it all.
But at least it was the end.